Not so today. Even during the Vietnam War there were several dozen sons of senators and congressmen in the armed forces. Now Senator Jim Webb of Virginia is unique on Capitol Hill in having a son serving in Iraq. That is a most ominous change.
Nothing was more striking in the first half of the past century than the way in which the richer, educated classes bore their share of the burden of war, or more than their share. Nothing is more striking in the past generation than the way this has ceased to be true.
In two world wars the rich fought and died for their country in disproportionate numbers: The casualty rate for junior officers in the British Army from 1914 to 1918 was three times as heavy as for privates. Among prime ministers, H. H. Asquith lost a son, and Andrew Bonar Law lost two. The American toll in that war was less grim, although in all the U.S. elections from 1868 to 1900, eight of nine Republican presidential candidates had served as officers in the Civil War.
A contrast indeed to the Republican Party today. The present administration is notoriously composed of men like Vice President Dick Cheney, who had "other priorities" when he might have been drafted, or President George W. Bush, who served in the National Guard when it was an acknowledged way of avoiding combat. An examination of the neoconservative elite who dreamed up the Iraq war will yield few with any military experience.
And a contrast also to Tony Blair's Labour party. One of the more striking footnotes to British political history in the last century is that every prime minister between 1940 and 1963 had served as an infantry officer in the Great War. That included Churchill, when he left the cabinet to command a battalion in 1916.
There are now more than 100 ministers in the Blair government, but not one has performed any military service or has a child in the armed forces.
"We are fast approaching the day when no one in Congress . . . will have served or have any children serving," Kathy Roth-Douquet and Frank Schaeffer write in their recent book "AWOL: The Unexcused Absence of America's Upper Classes from Military Service - and How It Hurts Our Country." That day has almost arrived at Westminster.
This trend dates back to the 1960s, when the British government ended the draft and when the United States had a draft of sorts, but one which operated in notoriously unfair fashion. "People who figured out how to work the system were exempted," the defense secretary admitted in 1975."
It is inconceivable that a system designed and operating the way the draft did could have produced a true cross-section of America in the military." That was Donald Rumsfeld during his first stint at the Pentagon. He could scarcely claim that the forces he sent to Iraq during his second stint were much more of a true cross-section.
At New College, my own old Oxford college, the 1914-18 memorial in the chapel bears the names of 228 men, and another 135 were killed in 1939-45. Compare that with another figure: 12 Harvard men died in Vietnam. It is hard to exaggerate how grave are the social and political implications of this.
Könnte es sein, daß zu Beginn des 21. Jahrhunderts eine besonders aggressive Außenpolitik vor allem von solchen Politikern vertreten wird, die selbst kaum wissen, was Militärdienst und Kriegführung auch für den Einzelnen bedeuten und von ihren unausweichlichen negativen Folgen selbst nicht betroffen sind? Ist es möglich, daß 'Militaristen' wie Jitzchak Rabin, Dwight D. Eisenhower oder Alexander Lebed - entgegen populären Vorurteilen - eher zu einer zurückhaltenden und sorgfältig durchdachten und damit weniger 'falkenhaften' Politik neigen?